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TURNER BROWNE

The Last River

Life Along Arkansas’s Lower White

The idea for this project came on a walk through the woods along the White River in Arkansas. I was on a high bluff and on the other side was a yellow houseboat with smoke curling out of the chimney, clothes drying on a line, and a dog pacing on the deck.


This was clearly a permanent home for someone. Imagining the life of its inhabitant, I realized what a rare site this was in the late 1980s, yet for decades it was a common sight along southern rivers. I began to search for and photograph the relatively few people who still lived and worked on the river.






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Once I began talking to these people I discovered the “the culprit” that was responsible not only for so many who had to move away from the river but to the very health of the river that had been the source of their livelihood.


Everyone that I interviewed, without exception, laid the blame on the Army Corp of Engineers. The Corp’s sole interest in the river is to keep it functioning as a route for commercial barge traffic. The constant dredging and snagging (removing sunken trees and logs from the river) that they perform are steadily destroying habitat for fish and mussels, not to forget the building of dams; yet another was approved while I was doing this project.


In April of 2013 I was informed that Jeff Nichols, the writer/director of a new film called Mud was interviewed by the New York Times and credited The Last River as an inspiration for the movie. It stars Matthew McConaughey, Sam Shepard, and Reese Witherspoon and was shot entirely on the lower White River, the location for all the photographs in my book, some of which you can see here.

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